This is the story of a very strange Sunday that started with eight audience members sitting in shop doorways and concluded at a dining table set up on the busy St John’s Road near Clapham Junction. We went through a lot together – a phonebox, a cashpoint, a wedding in a piss-sodden alleyway, a funeral in a car park and then this surreal Sunday lunch. We were family by the time Barry broke his sad news on the street corner over tinned mushroom soup. And we were devastated. If there’s one thing An Audience of One did well, it made us empathise like no other theatre production. We lived the lives of the Hart family. We had to – we were playing them.
Cast members Caroline Garland and Oliver Langdon performed an extraordinary feat in this piece of street theatre. The entire performance was devised and rehearsed on the actual streets around Clapham Junction in nine chilly days; they played main characters Barry and Rose flawlessly, effortlessly involving the audience as themselves or in character. Audience members were one by one assigned a Hart family character and were incorporated into the drama as it unfolded, moving around the streets with props and prompts to learn more about our characters.
Our group’s aunt Maggy was particularly in character, constantly needing a drink. 16 year-old Luke was played with slightly less gusto, due to his tiny baby (not scripted). This was also incorporated into the performance and references were made to Luke's "school project" whenever the baby needed a pause in the action. We were all so drawn in to the Hart family's unravelling, we happily charged around the back streets of Clapham Junction playing regardless of our actin abilities – the Ladder to the Moon Laboratory accommodated how little or how much we participated and still presented a complex, hard-hitting drama about three generations of a family facing hard times. It was like a live action Mike Leigh movie: improvisational, tense and realistic.
Unlike Moonwalking in Chinatown in which the Soho streets became magical and mythical, removed from the reality of Soho at night, we were grounded firmly in the grubbiness of south-west London on Sunday afternoon. Though we were asked to imagine that the eight of us were all members of the Hart family, we were not asked to imagine there was anything romantic or mystical about our surroundings. By placing us each in individual shop doorways at the start, making us hang around awkwardly, the performance was saying "You are here. You are really here. And it can be hard." Being uprooted, disbanded, displaced and made homeless was explored with the most immersive empathy possible. The ghastly silence at the end as the soup sat uneaten was as real as any "difficult" family dinner we have experienced.
An Audience of One will continue to be developed and will be presented again soon. This is real street theatre, on the streets, about the streets and unforgettable.